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Bells and toads, slips and falls (Part V)

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The front cover of ‘Long Love, Short Life’. KT/Pann Rachana

As a service to our readers, Khmer Times is pleased to publish the full version of Ek Tha’s latest book Long Love, Short Life. The book is published in sections every Friday. Below is the fifth portion of the series. Last week, Dara decided to keep his love for Duongchan a secret. This week follows their misadventures at school.


 

Check out the Forth portion here: 

The Communist School Bans Love (Part IV)

Dara along with about twelve classmates, including Duongchan, would meet and discuss schoolwork every evening from 6pm to 8pm. There was no electricity so everyone carried a kerosene lamp. Sometimes the lamps would be blown out by strong winds from as far away as the Gulf of Thailand while they walked to the classroom. Schools were made of wood and covered with tiles made of clay. The school structure was the ideal place for geckos and other types of lizards to live and thrive. Behind the schools were rice fields, palm trees, and in the centre of the campus a few mango trees where the school bell, which was a defused shell left over from the Vietnam War, dangled under the tree. The barrel of an AK rifle was used as the drumstick to ring the school bell when it was time to attend class.

Both the school building and classrooms were in poor condition but the atmosphere among the students was happy and friendly. They felt no need to complain as they had never experienced a more materialistic way of life. The classroom had only a clay floor, and the wooden tables with open drawers were neatly placed. The whiteboard – made of cement – was stuck to the wall along with other boards made of wood. Teachers and students were grateful for donated chalk, which had travelled thousands of kilometres from the Soviet Union before reaching Sihanoukville Port and being distributed to schools across Cambodia. A hammer and sickle sign, which was the usual Communist symbol, was hanging from the wall and was posted on the wall dangling, and you would often find gecko nests – or even snakes- hiding behind it or the boards.

Dara and his girlfriend would usually arrive early for the study groups so that they could spend time together, flirt, and exchange sweet expressions of love for about thirty minutes before the other students arrived to discuss their school subjects and homework.

Ek Tha, author of ‘Long Love, Short Life’. Supplied

One evening Duongchan arrived early and she reached into a drawer to get an eraser – which was as big as a small pillow – to clean the white board. She felt something else in there and heard a deep croaking tone. She again tried to pull it out. It was a giant toad almost as big as a shoe. Duongchan screamed loudly when she saw what it was. Dara, just arriving at the school on his scooter, heard her scream and accelerated into the schoolyard but hit a large rock and crashed into a banana tree with the scooter landing on top of his left leg, pinning him to the ground.

“Hey Duongchan, please help me to get my scooter off me.” Duongchan heard Dara’s screams and rushed out. As she ran out the class she slipped and fell, hitting her face on the ground. Luckily their classmates were arriving and went to help them both. Although their injuries were slight they both missed the first classes the next morning. The teachers suspected that they were skipping class to meet up somewhere, and though they tried to explain the reasons when they arrived for later classes, the teachers did not believe their stories.

Their female teacher addressed the whole class; “Students, please understand that this school is built and operated by the People’s Republic of Kampuchea and supported by the USSR and The Socialist Republic of Vietnam. You come here to learn, not to have fun or fall in love. Your parents send you here to study not to have a relationship. Don’t you agree, Dara?”

“Well, I partially agree. I mean I do not come to make war, I come to learn and maybe to love in free time because without love there is no peace. I respect you and I love you as much as the other teachers,” Dara replied, and the other students giggled when they heard him talk about loving the teachers.

Dara had gone further than what the teacher had asked and she was silenced by his words.

“I also love the communists who teach me how the Soviet and Vietnamese systems work.” Dara said.

The teacher told Dara to shut up before the school bell rang for the end of class. But Duongchan was sad and felt her heart was breaking. She had completely misunderstood when she heard Dara talk about loving the woman teacher. Duongchan cried. She was unhappy and walked straight home after the morning class. When Dara realised this he wrote another letter, inserted it into his cover book, and lent it to Duongchan.

He spoke to Duongchan in low voice and said, “Please read my letter inside the book cover and you will understand what I meant by talking about love towards the cantankerous teacher. After reading it, burn it, ok?”

Duongchan said nothing but stared at her boyfriend before snatching the book from him, still in a bad mood. Once Duongchan got back to her hut she was a bit tired and hungry. She needed to prepare her own meal so she made a fire and placed three large stones on it to prevent the pot of rice from spilling over.  While the rice was cooking she took out Dara’s letter and read it.

“Dear Darling, I can tell you misunderstood me when said I love the woman teacher. It was a joke only. I am sorry for such a bad joke; I did not mean to make you cry. But I just wanted the teacher to believe that I am her loyal student who loves her teaching only, but not falling in love with her, although she is as cute as a Vietcong woman soldier hiding in the bunker during their fight with American troops on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.”

To console her bad feelings, he also talked about the incident when she fell the night before;

“I could see your cheek was still swollen and bruised. Luckily, you did not break your teeth, or injure your lips or eyes. I know how much you care for me by how quickly you ran out when you heard I crashed my scooter. You are such a caring girl. I will get you some medicines tomorrow, so please wait for me at your hut after 9pm. I will be there as I have promised. Your sweetheart Dara.”

The next evening arrived and Dara came to see her at the hut as he had promised. In the dark evening, Dara spoke to her in a low voice and handed her three packs of medicine. He also took some money from his pocket so Duongchan could buy some good food. He hugged Duongchan as gently as he could before saying good night, “Please take this medicine. Get well soon. Good night!”

 

The views and expressions in the said novel Long Love, Short Life are entirely a work of fiction, and it is the personal work of the author.

 

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